Originally published in anthology of Southeastern Kansas stories....
I was stunned one summer day in the 1950s when my dad came home looking like a stranger. He had gone by the barber shop after work. Instead his wavy dark hair combed back from his forehead, he sported a new flat top haircut. I thought he had ruined his hair, turning his once soft locks into stubble that looked like a curry comb for a horse. I had to search his face for days to make sure he was the right daddy.
It was all the more strange because Mom and Dad had issues over hair-hers. He never wanted her to cut her hair short, but in Kansas summers before air conditioning, she chopped her hair short to endure the sweat of cooking, cleaning, and childrearing. Every summer, she would go to the beauty shop and come home with a fresh bob. Dad would sneer and make some snide comment about her trading curls for summer hair, and she would snip back with a barbed reply making the air tense for a few days.
So it was only natural that I wanted long hair to keep the peace which wasn’t exactly how it worked. When my hair got very long, my mom brushed way too hard saying she had to get the “rats” out. When she tired of the job or my whining, she would tromp me to the beauty shop for a Buster Brown cut. How I hated those! I did not like getting or wearing them either one. Sitting still while the lady cut my bangs was torture; feeling the snips of hair dust my eyelashes and nose was worse. Mother wanted those bangs straight as a bobby pin across my forehead, and it often took a several tries to get them right.
In grade school, I convinced Mom to let me have a Toni home permanent. That was hours of smelly, painful business, but I could endure the suffering if she would take the time. She would roll those tiny plastic perm curlers so tight my scalp felt like a trapper had staked a hide out to dry. Then there was that stinky solution that stole my breath under the towel protecting my eyes from certain blindness. Once timed, then neutralized, then rolled into pin curls all over my head, dried, and finally combed out into a bushel of curls, we both were exhausted.
In high school I got say over my own hair. It was the 60’s and straight hair was in. Keeping ends trimmed was the challenge unless you had natural curls. Then you ironed your hair…or slept with cans on your head! I don’t know who first learned that empty orange juice cans from the frozen food section could be rolled with wet hair, but once it dried, hair was straightened with just a little flip on the ends. No head in cans would go under the plastic cap of hair dryers of those days, so a night’s sleep for drying was the only solution. I use the term sleep loosely as cans on your head could hurt, not to mention the angle they put your neck in for the night. Ah, but suffering for beauty’s sake seemed worth it.
Once I got long hair, I never wanted to give it up again. In the early 80’s I did exchange the long and straight for long and super curly. My beautician convinced me that it would be easier to have Brillo pad tight coils. Then you just washed the hair, picked it out, and let it air dry. What could be easier while raising kids? It looked good but must have be my version of the flat top for my boys. When I came home, one cried and ran to his bedroom saying I wasn’t his mommy anymore.
When my babies were born, I loved their soft swirls of fine hair, and while other mom’s couldn’t wait for their little boys’ first haircut, I dreaded it. I postponed that first clip, enjoying a more European length until they were at least four. When my first grader came home from school one day, he headed for the bathroom to comb his hair. Odd I thought as I fixed his snack. Soon he came out with a beaming smile and new part plastered down with water. “Look, Mom, now I have President Jimmy Carter hair!” And so he did.